Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alexythymia: No Words For Feelings

Feelings and emotions are important because they give a language to our experience where mind and body meet, according to Living In Balance authors Joel and Michelle Levey. Our feelings and emotions help us know what is true for us, and provide guidance both for our own self-care and well-being, and also for our work, relationships and overall health.

Many people suffer, often unknowingly, from an ailment called alexythymia, in which there are no words for feelings. Have you ever found yourself having a strong feeling, yet been at a loss for words? Or is it difficult, in general, to find words for what you feel? Many people who have experienced great stress or trauma struggle to find words for feelings. And many people have never had the opportunity to learn how to translate their feelings into language at all.

Even if it is hard to get in touch with our feelings or find words for feelings, we are still impacted by the waves of life. When experiences impact us strongly at the emotional level, and we have no means of expression, we can feel trapped in an emotional prison, that causes great internal stress.

Creating emotional safety is often a first step in learning to connect with our emotions and feelings, and learning to notice the sensations and energy currents that run through our body when we feel sad, happy, angry, scared, disappointed, or anxious. Our bodies often communicate through physical sensations: knots in the stomach, lumps in the throat, tightness in the chest, headache that won't go away.... We have learned to label these experiences as symptoms, which are "bad," and we are supposed to make "go away," rather than understanding that this is our body's way of trying to get our attention to learn what we feel and what we really need. Underneath most physical "symptoms" are emotions and feelings, which when accessed and expressed, help us learn about what is true for us and what we really need.

How do you begin to connect with your feelings to find the voice they invite you to discover? Slow down, sit in a chair, take some deep breaths, and focus on getting grounded. As you inhale, feel the physical contact of your back with the back of the chair, of your pelvis and tailbone with the seat of the chair and of your feet with the floor or rug. Breathe in the physical sensation of the chair and the floor supporting you. Exhale any tension, any stress, any strain in your body and mind. Invite your inner observer to notice any passing thoughts, simply noting them, and inviting them to melt away with your exhale.

As you slow down, relax, quiet and ground, the sensations and feelings in your body and heart are more likely to be noticeable. Invite them to speak to you, letting go of the need to analyze or judge what you find. Write in your journal. Type into your computer. Just notice what you experience and record it.

Initially, you might not notice anything. That is okay. There is a power in just slowing down, getting grounded and creating a space to listen. In time, your body and heart are likely to communicate with you. And as you listen to what your body and heart have to say, you will gain information that will help you put your felt experience into words. Once you can do this, you can choose what to share with friends and loved ones and deepen your connection and communication.

You may even find yourself able to write a "dictionary," translating common feelings, emotions and body sensations into the messages they contain. Giving voice to your body and feelings will reduce your internal stress level and improve your communication with others!

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